2008 Spring Preview
Key Mountain West Questions Answered
2008 Mountain West Spring Analysis
loaded BYU appears to be, what’s the one thing standing in the way
of going to the BCS?
From Matt Hodge, www.totalbluesports.com
editor and publisher
The biggest obstacle that BYU faces next season is rebuilding a
good portion of its defense. Seven starters from last season have
graduated. That includes all four starters in the secondary (although
one of them, safety Quinn Gooch, missed the last four games of the
season due to injury) and three of the four starting linebackers.
Meanwhile, two of the three starters (defensive end Ian Dulan and nose
guard Eathyn Manumaleuna, the latter of which blocked UCLA’s would-be
winning field goal in the Las Vegas Bowl) on the defensive line will be
taking a two-year break from football to serve missions for the Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The departing players
accounted for 42 of the team’s 53 pass breakups and 15 of the 16
interceptions last season. The offense next season will be loaded and
experienced, but it wasn’t until BYU had a strong defense to go along
with its strong offense that the program started winning again. In
Bronco Mendenhall’s first season as head coach, the defense was one of
the worst in the country, and the team finished 6-6. In the two seasons
since that one, BYU’s defense, outside of a game or two, has been
fantastic and has allowed the Cougars to finish with consecutive 11-2
records and top-15 rankings.
The dramatic turnaround
two seasons ago coincided with the switch from a 3-3-5 defense to a
3-4-4 defense that took advantage of BYU’s deep and talented linebacker
corps. In addition, BYU hired Jaime Hill (who was just promoted to
defensive coordinator) to be the secondary coach, and he has done a
fantastic job. By the end of this past season, BYU was starting four
former walk-on defensive backs in the secondary (all of which had served
church missions), yet still managed to finish 10th in total
So, if the coaching
staff can continue to make do with whomever they plug in the defensive
backfield, that will go a long way towards ensuring BYU continues
winning. And while there appears to be some of the best talent and
athleticism that the program has seen in the secondary in quite some
time, the secondary will nevertheless be quite inexperienced next
season, though the team does return Kellen Fowler, who filled in well
for Gooch after his injury late in the season.
As for replacing the
two starters on the defensive line, that doesn’t appear to be too much
of an issue. The team will be returning starter Jan Jorgensen, who was
fifth in the nation for sacks per game (14 total sacks on the season),
as well as Brett Denney, a player that the coaches felt very comfortable
with rotating in with the starters. The Cougars will also be getting
former starting nose guard Russell Tialavea back from injury after he
missed all of last season. Finally, the coaches have brought in two
four-star JC defensive linemen in Tevita Hola and Bernard Afutiti.
Finally, the linebacker
corps will return starter David Nixon, but has to replace the other
three starters, two of which (Bryan Kehl and Kelly Poppinga) were team
captains and great playmakers. Like with the secondary, the linebacker
corps will have to rely on former backups that played well when called
upon and some promising - but unproven - athletes.
So to wrap it all up,
the defense isn’t expected to be weak at all, and the 3-4-4 scheme and
coaching staff as currently constituted have been very good to BYU’s
defense. But, there is something to be said for experience, and the
defense as a whole will not be as experienced as it has been the past
two seasons. That means that the offense might have to carry the load
more if there happens to be growing pains. Sure, the defense could and
probably should gel with the talent and coaching that BYU has, but with
the current BCS system that allows virtually no room for error when it
comes to non-BCS schools, and early non-conference games against UCLA at
home and a possibly improving Washington team on the road (BYU has yet
to win a non-conference road game under Coach Mendenhall), the defense
better gel quickly.
What's the Wyoming quarterback situation? Is Karsten Sween going
to progress into all his early career promise?
From Matt Willie, CowboyBlitz.com
Karsten Sween's starting job is definitely up for grabs right
now. UW coaches brought in both Dax Crum, a 4-star JUCO signal
caller from Mesa Community College, and Adam Barry, a physically
gifted gunslinger from Moorpark High School in Calif, this offseason.
In addition, they return Ian Hetrick, a senior who logged valuable
playing time last year in relief of Sween, and Chris Stutzriem, a
redshirt freshman who happened to be Oklahoma's top-ranked high school
QB in 2006.
I had the chance to talk to Joe Glenn, the head coach, and Ron
Wisniewski, the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator, about
the quarterback situation, and both of them said the competition for the
starting job will be wide open this offseason.
Whether Sween emerges as the starter will depend, for the most part, on
how he adapts to the new offense the Cowboys will be running next
year. Glenn hired a new offensive coordinator/quarterback coach, Bob
Cole, right after the season ended, and he will be installing a brand
new system. That also levels the playing field somewhat, but Sween does
have the most D-I experience of any of the team's QBs.
In my opinion, Sween will be the starter next year and will have a much
more successful season. After seeing what he did this year, it's easy
to forget that this is the same guy that led Wyoming to five wins in
just seven starts as a freshman. The one thing that has been a
consistent problem for him, however, has been protecting the football.
He threw 17 interceptions to just 12 touchdowns this season, and even
back in 2006 he finished the year with eight picks and nine touchdowns.
The great thing is that if he can get on top of his interception
problem, he could truly be one of the best gunslingers in the Mountain
West Conference. If all goes well, Bob Cole's new offense will be the
right fit, Sween will bounce back in a big way, protect the football and
lead the Pokes to bowl eligibility. If he struggles, though, look for
one of the team's other young signal callers to step in and take away
I think the question of whether or not the Cowboys can bounce back from
their second-half nosedive at the end of last year actually depends a
lot on whether Sween can become the quarterback coaches thought he could
after his freshman season. The Pokes have traditionally boasted tough
defenses in the Glenn era, and next year won't be an exception. They
lose just four defensive starters to graduation (cornerbacks Julius
Stinson and Michael Medina and linebackers John Prater and Sean Claffey)
and appear to have the depth to replace them without missing a beat.
More importantly, the offense will lose just three senior starters from
last year (wide receivers Michael Ford and Hoost Marsh and tight end
With their returning talent, the Cowboys' main question marks will
center around whether their starting quarterback can avoid turnovers and
move the football consistently on offense. If he does, there's no
reason Wyoming shouldn't win at least seven games in '08.
On the other hand, there's no guarantees. All the more reason to watch,